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Burnout has been creeping into our workplaces and greatly affecting our lives, even before COVID. Noel O’Callaghan outlines how you can identify burnout and manage your work-related stress.Increasingly, we are hearing about how workplace stress is on the rise, especially where work and life both feel uncertain and unpredictable. In a new survey from the Department of Work and Employment Studies at the Kemmy Business School, 60% of employees in Ireland are feeling more stressed since the onset of COVID-19. As we become so ingrained in the day-to-day routine while meeting the needs of employers or customers, we can miss the alarm bells warning that what was a somewhat natural and manageable stress is now morphing into burnout, something considerably more serious. Work culture seeks to identify and label what they call ‘high achievers’ but, unfortunately, delivering more and more with less and less is often the only criteria needed to earn the distinction. Day to day, month-end to month-end, quarter-end to quarter-end, the relentless pace of work makes it seem impossible for someone to put their hand up and say, “Stop. I need to rest”. If you combine this with a personality that is wholly-committed to doing a good job, has a fear of failure, or is unsupported either at work or at home, then you have a recipe for disaster when it comes to excessive stress or burnout.Signs of burnoutWhat are the tell-tale signs of burnout? Burnout can lead to physical and mental exhaustion, a feeling of detachment, or a feeling of never being good enough no matter how much you deliver. Are you:terrified of going to work every day?always tired?disinterested in participating in hobbies outside of work?getting little enjoyment in anything and no motivation to seek it?feeling stuck, with little or no light at the end of the tunnel?(Sometimes these can also be accompanied by unusual physical aches and pains.)These are just a few of the more common red flags, but it can be different for everyone. The great news is that burnout is treatable. Taking breaks, knowing your limits, and watching out for situations or people that elevate the stress can help. However, there are also huge benefits gained from working on your relationship with work. I-It and I-ThouMartin Buber, a theorist and 19th-century Austrian philosopher, suggested that humans have two approaches to the way we interact with people, things and nature. One is an ‘I-It’ approach where we objectify whatever we are dealing with and seek to get as much out of it for ourselves as possible and the other is an ‘I-Thou’ approach, where we turn to the subject as a partner and seek to relate more to it for the mutual benefit of both parties. There is a recurring theme that I see is in relation to how people interact with their career and the workplace. A pattern emerges over years whereby one relates to their career, work or co-workers from an I-It standpoint, viewing it as a means to an end, which can cause the relationship with work to become so unhealthy that people become ill. Having a more constructive relationship can alleviate the symptoms of stress and burnout and instil a sense of nourishment into the workday. We should aim to shift the relationship from I-It to an I-Thou and think of work as something to be engaged in, enjoyed or experienced.  Noel O’Callaghan FCA is a qualified psychotherapist. If you would like to discuss how any of the topics mentioned above are impacting your mental health, please contact the CA support team at CASupport@charteredaccountants.ie.

Sep 04, 2020
Management

As the pandemic continues to rage throughout the world, how are SMEs coping with maintaining their liquidity and cashflow? David Lucas explores finance options that are available to help Irish businesses thrive and persevere. The COVID-19 pandemic has uniquely impacted SMEs throughout the country. Cashflow is scant, debt is racking up, and many businesses have yet to resume trading in any meaningful capacity. Those that have recommenced have found a desolate and unfamiliar trading environment. Shops and high streets are empty, many stores remain shuttered, and dented consumer confidence looks unlikely to rebound fully until a vaccine is developed. Supports available to SMEsWithout access to the significant cash reserves available to larger enterprises, liquidity and cashflow are key concerns for many SMEs during this time. Fortunately, there are a number of supports available, and businesses should be doing all they can to avail of the Credit Guarantee Scheme, COVID-19 Working Capital Loan Scheme, Future Growth Loan Scheme, Fund, Trading Online Voucher, Local Enterprise Offices Grants and Microfinance Ireland Loans wherever possible.  Furthermore, the COVID-19 warehousing provisions, in particular, have been a very well-received benefit during this difficult period, allowing businesses to effectively warehouse their VAT or PAYE payments into an interest-free loan for 12 months and a 3% loan for the subsequent 12 months. Quick cashThese measures can provide critical relief and cash supports to businesses, but there are additional measures SMEs can take to meet liquidity needs as repayment moratoriums expire towards the end of the year. For example, businesses can optimise by selling slow-moving stock to generate cash. Debtor management sounds obvious, but assets can become tied up, and the longer debt remains unpaid the less likely it is to collect. People talk about loan-to-value and property, but at the end of the day, it is cash that repays debt.Managing debtIn this volatile business landscape, SMEs may need to renegotiate covenants, or even a complete a full restructuring of their debt. At times like these, open communication with lenders is crucial. Businesses need to be extremely well-prepared as approaching the banks can be painstaking and time-consuming, but they understand the position businesses are in – everyone wants to be able to pay down the debt and keep the business in operation. Further funding optionsFor businesses seeking to access further funding, it is crucial to know the different options that are available on the market. Alternative lenders can be less onerous in terms of covenants. They tend to lend a little bit more than the traditional banks, but they charge greater interest, often up to 6 or 7%.Invoice discounting (also known as invoice finance) has become a very popular way of lending from a working capital perspective. This is a process whereby banks or alternative lenders will lend money based on the business’ debtor book. This gives the lender increased security as there is direct access to the debtor book and no reliance on revenue or cashflow.Private equity is another potential option for SMEs in need of a capital injection. This route has become increasingly popular in recent years as these investors provide experience and growth potential as well as capital.  Many SMEs are apprehensive about selling a piece of their business, but it’s always better to own 80% of a thriving venture than 100% of a failing one.Above is a snapshot of a wide range of options for SMEs looking for ways to finance their business through this uncertain period. Not all options are suitable for every business, but a proactive approach in identifying the best available options will give SMEs with cashflow difficulties the best chance of survival.David Lucas is a Corporate Finance Partner at PKF O’Connor Leddy Holmes.

Aug 14, 2020
Spotlight

Chartered Accountants share their stories about working at the nexus of technological change.It is often said that Chartered Accountants can be found in every sector, and they are increasingly making their presence felt in the technology space. While some are supporting excellence in financial reporting, others are creating inclusive company cultures and driving new business.In the pages that follow, three Chartered Accountants tell their stories about working at the nexus of technological change. Slack’s Lorna Mac Namara, Stripe’s Joe Kinvi and Hubspot’s Eimear Marrinan are all immersed in various strands of Ireland’s technology scene and have interesting insights to share.Whether you are interested in a career in technology, working in the space already, or simply curious about the people behind the companies driving technological change, the interviews that follow will introduce you to influential Chartered Accountants in some of the world’s best-known organisations.The professional slackerLorna Mac Namara discusses her role as Senior International Accountant at the online messaging platform, Slack.Why did you choose a career in the tech sector?I was looking for a challenge. I qualified in the middle of our last recession and about six months into a permanent, safe job, I saw an advertisement for a contract role with a tech company that would potentially go public. That company turned out to be Workday, and I was lucky to have been there pre- and post-IPO for five years. This was the greatest learning curve for me professionally and from there, I was hooked!Describe your typical day.I wake up at 5.30am. I am a mother of three small children under six, so there isn’t usually an option! I start my work day by catching up on Slack, our own product, which is a channel-based messaging platform. I get to see what decisions were made overnight, see discussions that were had, and progress made on projects and operational activities. I catch up with the international team here in Dublin and what they were working on also. From our Dublin office, we look after all countries outside North America and Canada. As a team, we cover time zones at either side of our day, so flexible working is essential. Most of my work, outside of the day-to-day routine, involves collaborating with colleagues around the world, both internally and externally. I work on cross-functional process improvement projects and international expansion plans.What do you most enjoy about your role?In a fast-growing company, there is a huge opportunity to make a difference and have an impact at every level. I love being part of building a finance function from the bottom up and seeing the company evolve from the start-up phase into a large public company. There is a real focus on finance transformation and continuous improvement here too. Once you have something solved, automated or improved, the company is growing so quickly that a new challenge presents itself. My roles have always evolved and they are diverse, which I love.What surprised or challenged you when you first joined the tech sector?What surprised me most was the energy people have for making our lives simpler, better and more productive. There is an openness to change and an appetite for trying things in new ways.What has been your most important lesson to date?To fully utilise my skills and continuously develop them. I focus on learning in every role and invest in CPD and continuous education as well as ‘on the job’ experience. I have managed payroll, tax, audit and month-end, and having to learn about other areas has benefited me – mostly in my finance transformation work. Also, never be precious about what task you are given at the start because you will get to learn about the company from the ground up. When it comes to career paths, sometimes a sideways move can be more beneficial than the traditional climb to a management role. And crucially, enjoy the people you work with. I am so lucky to have wonderful colleagues; they are the best sounding board during difficult times and late hours.How do you think your particular role will change in the next ten years?I believe the focus will be on adding value to the company and making accounting a strategic advantage along with the day-to-day operational work. I think global collaboration will be a critical factor in our future, particularly with how COVID-19 has affected work practices. Working in tech gives you an insight into how future accounting practices will evolve. I love working in a company like Slack, which is on the cutting edge of how our industry will operate and collaborate over the next decade – particularly when it comes to transparency and remote working.Earning his stripesJoe Kinvi, Growth Account Manager at Stripe, shares his experience of stepping into an area of the tech world that is growing at break-neck speed.Why did you choose a career in the tech sector?I started my career in the financial services sector and early on, I could see the impact tech was having on the industry. I was very attracted to how tech could enable me to do my job and around the same time, fintech was bubbling up in Europe. I knew this would be a massive industry soon and when the opportunity presented itself to work for a fintech start-up, I jumped on it. Fast-forward five years, fintech is here to stay and we are using more fintech products around the world than ever before. I really enjoy working with these fintech companies on a day-to-day basis.Describe your typical day.Unfortunately, a typical day doesn’t exist in the account manager world. But since COVID-19 hit, I’ve tried to structure my week in a way that allows me to handle customer calls early in the week and focus on getting things done during the latter half of the week. The typical Friday involves a retrospective review of my week and discussing various topics with the team. My entire team is based in Dublin, but I have some clients in the US and Canada so I work late the odd night – but that’s very rare. As I’ve been working from home, I get a lot more done because I’ve embraced, and gotten used to, this new way of working. (Pro-tip: get yourself a top-notch chair!)What do you most enjoy about your role?My role is very user-centric and I enjoy interacting with a mix of customer profiles, mostly within the financial services industry. My days are never the same and I spend a considerable amount of time interacting with engineers, product managers, project managers and biz-ops teams. Internally, I liaise with the sales and the engineering team. I really enjoy being the go-to person whenever my clients need something, and I use that as an opportunity to learn about the products we offer at an in-depth level. I aim to move into a product manager role eventually.What surprised or challenged you when you first joined the tech sector?I was quite surprised to see how fragmented the industry was. I used to think about tech companies being the big ones such as Google or HP, for example, but most industries have a tech component or are tech-enabled. The tech sector is quite big and continues to grow every year.What has been your most important lesson to date?Don’t stop learning! The world is ever-changing and new innovations and technologies keep popping up daily. We can only adapt to this through continuous learning.How do you think your particular role will change in the next ten years?The account manager role will be more data-driven and relatively automated, but the human aspect will remain. The typical account manager will, therefore, handle more accounts and use data to optimise client experiences.The crafter of cultureEimear Marrinan discusses her journey from Chartered Accountant to Director of Culture at HubSpot.Why did you choose a career in the tech sector?I joined the technology sector over seven years ago when it was still growing in Dublin. The ability to be part of a high-growth company and industry was so exciting to me. The pace of change, the opportunity to make an impact, and the chance to work somewhere that challenged me to grow both personally and professionally were also huge draws.Describe your typical day.I don’t really have a typical day but in general, I get up with the kids and try to work-out before breakfast (something that has been my saving grace during lockdown!) We’re lucky to have a childminder who comes to our house in the morning, so I have time to check my emails and touch base with my EMEA and JAPAC teams. Since the kids are now at home, I always have lunch with them. Then, the afternoon is generally spent on video calls with my team in NAM and working through my to-do list for the week.What do you most enjoy about your role?At HubSpot, our mission is to help millions of organisations grow better. And as Director of Culture, my team is responsible for bringing this mission to life by inspiring and enabling people to do their best work. This gives me so much joy, knowing that we are making a positive impact on our people first and foremost while helping HubSpot achieve its mission and goals.What surprised or challenged you when you first joined the tech sector?Moving from a company that was headquartered out of Dublin to one that was headquartered out of the US was a definite challenge. It took time for me to effectively structure my day (and calendar), knowing I spent my morning with APAC and my afternoon on calls with the US. On the flip side, the global reach of the tech sector is incredible – being able to pick up my laptop and walk into a video conference where peers join me from India, France and the US is truly amazing.What has been your most important lesson to date?Learn how to focus on fewer things done better. There is so much scope to make an impact and get involved when you join the tech sector, and this can get pretty overwhelming. It is essential to focus on the things that will genuinely make an impact, and nail those before you widen your scope. Also, focus on the things that will scale as the tech sector continues to grow.How do you think your particular role will change in the next ten years?We take culture at HubSpot incredibly seriously, so much so that we have published our own external Culture Code. And at this moment in time, as companies lean more heavily into the world of remote, culture is more important than ever. Organisations will recognise that having someone dedicated to creating an inclusive and diverse culture is not just critical for employee engagement and retention; it is business-critical and mission-critical. As we consider changes to how we work in a more virtual world, my role is already shifting towards creating a culture that transcends physical space and is inclusive of everyone – no matter how, when or where they work.

Jul 31, 2020
Personal Development

In these challenging times, it is comforting to know that everyone can develop resilience. Dr Eddie Murphy explains how.Nobody can be protected from adversity all their lives. In fact, over-protection can result in poor problem solving and later, poor coping skills in the face of adversity. Recently, I planted a Tree of Hope in the People’s Park in Limerick as a symbol of how hope and brighter days will come after the storms pass. Indeed, some people are like trees in that, having survived the most challenging weather conditions and been tested by adversity, they will grow and endure.In reality, bad things happen. We all have periods of stress, loss, failure or trauma in our lives. But how we respond has a significant impact on our wellbeing. We often cannot choose what happens to us, but in principle, we can choose our attitude to what happens. It isn’t always easy in practice, but one of the most exciting findings from recent research is that resilience, like many other life skills, can be learned.What is resilience?Resilience comes from the Latin word resilio, meaning to jump back. It is increasingly used in everyday language to describe our ability to cope with, and bounce back from, adversity. Some define it as the ability to bend instead of break when under pressure or difficulty, or the ability to persevere and adapt when faced with a challenge. The same skills also make us more open to, and willing to take on, new opportunities. In this way, being resilient is more than just survival; it includes letting go, learning and growing, and finding healthy ways to cope.It’s not rareResearch shows that resilience isn’t a rare quality found in a few extraordinary people. One expert on the subject, Dr Ann Masten, describes it as ‘ordinary magic’, noting that it comes from our everyday capabilities, relationships and resources. She argues that resilience is dynamic and that we can be naturally resilient in some situations, or at some times in our lives, and not others. Each person and each case is different.We can all work on our resilience. We can’t always predict or control what life throws at us, but we can build a range of skills to help us respond flexibly, deal with challenges effectively, recover more quickly, and even learn and grow as a result. It can also lower our risk of depression and anxiety and enable us to age successfully. What’s more, the same skills can help us manage the fear of taking on new opportunities and help us develop in other ways too.Areas of influenceThree areas influence our resilience:our development as a child and  teenager;external factors such as our relationships with others or having a faith; andinternal factors, such as how we choose to interpret events, manage our emotions and regulate our behaviour.Parents and those who work with children can do much to help build the resilience of kids and teenagers. While as adults, we can’t change our childhoods, we can do plenty to develop our resilience within the second and third factors. Indeed, research shows that resilience is developable in adults as well as in children.Building resilience skillsThere is saying, ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger’. Science has shown that it has some truth: experiencing some adversity during our lives does increase our resilience by enabling us to learn ways of coping and identify and engage our support network. It also gives us a sense of mastery over past adversities, which helps us to feel able to cope in the future. We have probably all experienced things as stressful initially, but later find that similar activities no longer phase us. It is important to learn that, through such struggles, our coping skills and resources can be taxed but not overwhelmed.Some psychologists argue that most of us aren’t prepared to face adversity. We, therefore, run the risk of giving up or feeling helpless in the face of difficulty. But by changing the way we think about adversity, we can boost how resilient we are. Based on extensive research, they believe that our capacity for resilience is not fixed or in our genes, nor are there limits to how resilient we can be. I like this, as it allows for hope that we can change.Resilience and relationshipsOne of the critical external sources of resilience is our network, such as family, friends, neighbours, and work colleagues. Taking time to nurture our relationships is a vital part of building resilience. Knowing when we need help and asking for it is an integral part of resilience. In this era of mental health awareness, reaching out and offering support is critical.Members and students can contact CA Support on 01 637 7342 or 086 024 3294, by email at casupport@charteredaccountants.ie or online at www.charteredaccountants.ie/ca-supportDr Eddie Murphy is a clinical psychologist, mental health expert and author. 

Jul 30, 2020
Business Law

The General Court of the European Union’s ruling in the Apple tax case affirms Ireland’s reputation as a suitable location for global establishment, argues Claire Lord.In 2016, the EU Commission decided that two tax rulings issued by the Revenue Commissioners in 1991 and 2007 in favour of Apple Sales International (ASI) and Apple Operations Europe (AOE) constituted unlawful state aid under EU law.ASI and AOE were companies incorporated in Ireland, but not tax-resident in Ireland. The contested tax rulings endorsed the methods used by ASI and AOE to determine the taxable profits in Ireland attributable to the trading activity of their respective Irish branches. The Commission calculated that, through these tax rulings, Ireland had granted Apple €13 billion in unlawful tax benefits, which therefore constituted unlawful state aid.The decision of the Commission was appealed to the General Court of the European Union by both Apple and Ireland.General Court’s decisionThe General Court annulled the Commission’s decision on the basis that the Commission did not succeed in proving that ASI and AOE had been granted a selective economic advantage and, by extension, unlawful state aid.The General Court agreed with the Commission’s approach on some fundamental legal issues such as how the principles of advantage and selectivity are to be assessed, the reference framework of Irish tax law and, in broad terms, the application of the ‘arm’s length’ principle. However, it also held against the Commission on several points of law and fact. In particular, it rejected the Commission’s primary argument that the Revenue Commissioners had granted ASI and AOE an advantage by not allocating the Apple group’s intellectual property licences held by ASI and AOE, and the associated sales income, to the Irish branches of ASI and AOE.The Commission had made this argument by effectively contending that such an allocation must be the case because ASI and AOE had no employees anywhere else, despite their boards conducting business outside of Ireland. The General Court found that approach to be wrong in law and fact. It held that as a matter of law, the Commission had to show that, in fact, the Irish branches of AOE and ASI carried out the taxable activity; it was not enough to contend that the Commission had not found such activity elsewhere.In addition, the General Court held that the evidence given by ASI and AOE demonstrated that the relevant taxable activities were not in fact carried out by the Irish branches.The General Court also held that the Commission did not demonstrate that methodological errors (which the Court accepted had occurred in the contested tax rulings) resulted in an advantage for AOE and ASI. While the General Court regretted the incomplete and sometimes inconsistent nature of the contested Irish tax rulings, those infirmities did not, in themselves, prove the existence of a selective advantage. Therefore, such errors did not constitute unlawful state aid.Lastly, the Court also found that the Commission did not prove that the contested tax rulings were the result of discretion exercised by the Revenue Commissioners, which had granted a selective advantage to ASI and AOE. Instead, it found that the correct analysis of 11 other rulings by the Revenue Commissioners was that the approach depended on the facts and this was not objectionable.The Commission may appeal the decision to the EU’s Court of Justice before 26 September. However, an appeal is only on points of law and not on findings of fact.The impact of the decisionThe General Court’s decision is a victory for the position argued by Apple and Ireland. Because it holds against the Commission on several points of law and fact, it will be a difficult decision to appeal successfully should the Commission decide to do so. Also, the points won by the Commission are points of law. They, therefore, may themselves be challenged in any cross-appeal and an adverse decision on any of those points could have systemic effects, which the Commission would not welcome.The decision is obviously newsworthy because of the parties involved, the value at stake and the current global focus on international tax, particularly in relation to multinationals and the digital economy. However, it is noteworthy that many of the points at issue are no longer of relevance for companies doing business in Ireland as the structures and approaches at the heart of the case have not been widely used here in recent years.It does, however, clarify that Ireland did not apply any selective treatment to Apple. It underscores Ireland’s reputation as a straightforward and rules-based jurisdiction which remains an eminently suitable location for global companies to establish significant operations.Claire Lord is a Corporate Partner and Head of Governance and Compliance at Mason Hayes & Curran.

Jul 30, 2020
Ethics and Governance

Níall Fitzgerald explains how boards can use the current crisis to take stock and, where appropriate, reflect new priorities.While the COVID-19 crisis continues, organisations are preparing for the uncertainty ahead. This process presents an opportunity for organisations to rethink their priorities, how they deploy resources, and the way they do things.In the months ahead, boards will face new challenges that can give rise to major concerns. This article examines some of those challenges, the responsibility of boards in facing them, and questions board members can ask to help focus on what is important.Going concernIrish and UK company law requires directors to act in the best interests of the company, which includes promoting its success and ensuring that it continues as a going concern. Past corporate collapses have revealed instances where directors failed in this duty. Failures attributed to directors include having unquestioning optimism rather than a challenging mindset and succumbing to groupthink.Given the current uncertainty, threats to going concern are more likely to feature higher on the risk register in many organisations. Oversight is a key role of the board, and this requires directors to have a questioning mindset, apply their skills, experience and knowledge to challenge management appropriately on their judgements, and ensure that they have sufficient evidence to support those judgements. Having a range of skills, experience and knowledge (in addition to diversity in other forms) on a board will help ensure that a range of perspectives and practicalities are considered. Basic good governance practices such as reviewing meeting papers in advance, arriving to meetings prepared, and an effective chair who allows sufficient time for discussion will make a big difference to the quality of the decisions or actions arising.In June 2020, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) published COVID-19 – Going Concern, Risk and Viability: Reporting in Times of Uncertainty. The paper highlights how challenges that would normally relate to building resilience and flexibility (e.g. sourcing short-term cash resources) have pivoted as a result of the pandemic to threats relating to survival and, therefore, going concern.Other examples of current threats and challenges to going concern include:further restrictions that limit the return to normal operations;restrictions placed on government (or other) capital;timing and continuation of government schemes and support packages;short-term impacts of pricing changes to revenue and expenses; andimpacts on human capital.An Institute article titled Going Concern Considerations for Members Preparing or Auditing Financial Statements in the Context of COVID-19 is available on the COVID-19 Hub on Chartered Accountants Ireland’s website.Social responsibility, and public and employee welfareDirectors have a duty under company law to have regard to the interests of employees and will therefore be involved in making important decisions in relation to workforce policies and practices. In addition, corporate governance codes (e.g. the UK Corporate Governance Code) and sustainability frameworks (e.g. an environmental, social and governance (ESG) framework) highlight how a board’s consideration of all stakeholder interests, including societal impact, is important to ensure the organisation’s long-term success.The COVID-19 crisis forced many organisations to rapidly transform the way they work. In many cases, anticipated obstacles to business continuity either did not arise or were overcome with adjustments to how work and people are managed, as well as investment in ICT infrastructure, connectivity and cybersecurity. In April 2020, The UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) released statistics revealing that 49% of adults in employment were working from home. In May 2020, an Irish survey of remote working during the COVID-19 crisis by the Whittaker Institute at National University Ireland Galway and the Western Development Commission revealed that 51% of respondents never worked remotely before the COVID-19 crisis. Of these, 78% would like to continue to work remotely.As public health restrictions are lifted, boards – or board chairs, at least – should engage with CEOs and executive management to support the restoration of operations and plan the safe return to the workplace of employees, suppliers and customers. Executive management and boards should be aware of, and follow, national and local government protocols issued on returning to the workplace.No plan survives the battlefield, so expect adjustments along the way. Updating the board and seeking direction at every turn is not practical, however. It might, therefore, be wise to establish an oversight working party with regular executive engagement and delegated responsibility for overseeing the implementation of plans to restore operations. Decision-making authority should be clearly defined to ensure issues are, where appropriate, referred to the board for a decision. As boards plan for the return to the workplace, directors should consider the following:what work can be done remotely?do certain internal policies need to be rewritten to support new or future ways of working?are there opportunities for automation or digitalisation?what impact could remote working have on organisational culture, and what changes are necessary to align it with the organisation’s mission, vision and values?Boards also have an opportunity to consider how their organisations can have a greater positive social impact. During the crisis, some organisations went further with social responsibility by redirecting their resources to provide support, services and products to the fight against COVID-19. Charities and other not-for-profit organisations excelled in meeting the social needs of many vulnerable people affected by the crisis. Many organisations incentivised staff to get involved in volunteerism to help with, or raise funds for, good causes. In fact, organisations such as Volunteer Ireland and the Royal Voluntary Service reported a surge in registrations, resulting in a surplus of volunteers.Sustainable ‘reset’An important principle set out in the UK Corporate Governance Code is for a board “to promote the long-term sustainable success of the company”. This involves considering how the organisation generates and preserves value, and contributes to wider society over the long-term. It also involves considering the sustainability of the business model – weighing up resilience with efficiency to achieve long-term success. In times of uncertainty, some efficiencies may be sacrificed to achieve resilience. A board’s macro perspective can make a significant contribution in helping the organisation achieve a balance between these two factors.As part of pre-recovery planning, many organisations will engage in horizon scanning to anticipate changes, sources of uncertainty, and future threats and opportunities. While the effect of the COVID-19 crisis on operations may dominate risk perception, organisations also have a unique opportunity to consider how they can rebuild better, greener, and for a more resilient, sustainable world. Boards are well-positioned to lead and encourage innovation on how organisations can adapt to expectations of sustainability from key stakeholders such as investors, customers and regulators. These expectations are apparent in changing social behaviour (e.g. support for global climate protests), investor conditions (e.g. ESG goals or investors’ adoption of Principles for Responsible Investment), and regulator mandates (e.g. the development of standards for ESG disclosures for financial market participants, advisers and products).The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a blueprint that can be used to define an organisation’s sustainability objectives. The World Economic Forum refer to this opportunity as the ‘great reset’. We all have a vested interest in averting further global crises. When boards are resetting their agenda to focus on new priorities, sustainability must be a key consideration in more ways than one.ConclusionOrganisations can expect further challenges in the months ahead. This is not ‘business as usual’ and boards are adapting as the situation unfolds. Whether an organisation is struggling or thriving in the uncertainty, key priorities for any pre-recovery strategy must include going concern, social responsibility, employee and public welfare, and sustainability.Níall Fitzgerald FCA is Head of Ethics and Governance at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Jul 30, 2020
Personal Development

Michael Cawley has enjoyed a stellar career. In this article, he shares his five favourite lessons in leadership.Over the past four decades, I have encountered some very impressive leaders in my professional life. From Coopers & Lybrand, where I trained to qualify as a Chartered Accountant, to Ryanair, where I worked as Deputy Chief Executive, I have seen many different types of successful leadership.However, the best leaders have all had several traits and characteristics in common. In this article, I discuss the five things great leaders do consistently. The best part about these five tips is that they are all doable with some thought and a little effort. There’s no magic and no secret sauce, but great leadership does require purposeful application.Present a clear missionBusiness isn’t rocket science but all too often, simple things become unnecessarily complicated. It is the job of the leader to simplify wherever possible, by establishing straightforward reporting lines and setting clear objectives. In doing so, your team will be better able to see their impact on the overall mission of the business. This is important as colleagues who can directly relate their efforts to business outcomes will ultimately raise their game to go above and beyond what is required of them. If you have a team of people working on this basis, the sky is the limit.It all begins with clarity, however, and that begins at the top of the organisation. An organisation’s leaders must understand the mission and communicate unambiguously to everyone – no fudge, equivocation or misunderstanding. Joe Schmidt often speaks about how great teams exceed the potential of their constituent parts, and the same applies in business. Be clear about what is required, get everyone pulling in the same direction, and your business’s performance will dramatically improve.Think beyond the possibleIn my view, we all achieve a small percentage of our potential, but good leaders help people see beyond the constraints and what they define as ‘possible’. As an example, in Ryanair we faced a seemingly insoluble issue in Italy some years ago. The airline’s schedule requires that the turnaround time at each airport for each aircraft is 25 minutes. To achieve this, Ryanair needs to refuel the aircraft while passengers disembark and baggage is removed. However, in Italy, uniquely in Europe, the law prevented airlines from fuelling the aircraft as passengers disembarked. Our punctuality in Italy was badly affected by this restriction and when every other option was exhausted, my colleague, the Director of Operations, was charged with the seemingly impossible task of getting the legislation changed.Initially, we all thought this was impossible but faced with no alternative, we developed an innovative strategy which convinced the Italian government of the merits of our case. This involved working at both local and national level at speed throughout Italy.This ability to challenge people so that they tackle issues that appear to be beyond them, but not so far beyond them to put them into a state of despair, is a delicate act – but if done right, can make the seemingly impossible, achievable.Develop self-confidenceLeadership can be a lonely place, particularly when you are the CEO. All leaders therefore need the self-confidence to see them through – not only during the tough times, but also day-to-day. Unfortunately, Irish people tend to harbour a high degree of self-doubt and this can lead to paralysis at the very moment decisiveness and action is required. But how can you build self-confidence as a seasoned professional? Success breeds confidence, and I am a big believer in excellence in basic execution. Too many people give up early – they hit a bump in the road and the journey ends there and then. Some people are also just waiting for you to fail. But if you obsess over the basics and execute brilliantly every single time, your chance of success will increase exponentially – and every little win will add to your confidence and self-belief.You also need to develop a relentless streak, because sometimes even excellent execution will not cut it the first or second time around. Michael O’Leary is a good example of this approach with his unwavering persistence and focus on the end goal. So, begin with the basics, execute brilliantly, and do not give up.Be paranoidTo become, and remain, successful in business, you cannot rest on your laurels. Andrew Grove, the founder of Intel who is famously quoted as saying “only the paranoid survive”, insisted that Intel double the capacity of their microchip every two years in order to stay ahead of the competition. He saw this as key to remaining number one in their sector.The truth is, once you or your business become a success, people are out to get you. Your competitors work night and day to catch up with you, so you need to work even harder to stay ahead. This paranoia isn’t the debilitating kind, however. It drives you to become better and see evolution and change as standard practice.Ryanair floated in 1997, and our grand finale on the investor roadshow was in New York. At the time, we could produce a seat for a fraction of the cost of our nearest competitor and investors jumped on the opportunity. The offering was 19 times oversubscribed but instead of thinking we’d made it, we knew that we had to continue to work hard to keep driving our costs down. Today, a number of airlines have a similar cost base to what Ryanair had in 1997, but we have moved on because we knew we had to. We still have the lowest cost base in Europe by far, which is the key competitive advantage when you are in the short-haul air travel business. This type of paranoia is driven by the realisation that, because you are a success, you inevitably become a target for your competitors and you must be at least one step ahead at all times.Booking.com is another prime example of this phenomenon. The company is valued at $70 billion and run by a formidable bunch of people. Every year, they make up to 10,000 changes to their website – most of which are so minute as to be virtually undetectable. But they continuously work to test and iterate based on what customers respond to – and in that way stay ahead of the competition.It’s all very well being paranoid, but how do you stay ahead as an individual? You must learn continuously and be acutely aware of the fact that you do not have a monopoly on wisdom. I am 66 years of age and I am still conscious of my shortcomings. To overcome them, I read and research continuously.Energy and enthusiasmAs a leader, you set the tone – and this is most apparent when it comes to your energy and enthusiasm. Your colleagues at all levels of the organisation will pick up on everything from the urgency with which issues are dealt with and the speed of your commitments to your body language and your choices. Energy and enthusiasm flow downhill, as does lethargy and tardiness, so you need to ensure that, as a leader, you are sending the right signals to your people. And although it may be more challenging to do in a remote working environment, it’s still possible if you adapt.The best time to test for energy and enthusiasm is at the hiring stage. Employ people with as much, if not more, enthusiasm than you. Look for people with integrity and honesty, who seek to say and do the right thing even when it isn’t what you want to hear.No amount of talent can make up for a poor attitude, so be careful in your hiring processes and set the bar high in your day-to-day work environment.Michael Cawley FCA is an independent non-executive director and former Deputy Chief Executive Officer at Ryanair.

Jul 29, 2020
Management

With remote working here to stay, people leaders will need to understand the nuances of managing virtual teams and remote workers. Dr Annette Clancy explains.COVID-19 propelled remote working to the top of the agenda for every business. Overnight, virtual meetings replaced face-to-face interaction and have become the primary way in which work is conducted. This temporary solution to a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic is tolerable because we are in such unusual circumstances.However, some organisations such as Facebook and Twitter are now planning for permanent remote working. We are also likely to see remote working becoming more popular in non-technology businesses. For some people, and some businesses, remote working works. The ability to manage remote teams effectively will therefore be a critical skill in the new working world.What differentiates virtual teams from face-to-face teams? And what skills will managers need to ensure that remote working continues to work into the future?RelationshipsSustaining relationships in virtual teams is always a challenge due to the solitary nature of remote work. Research tells us that members of virtual teams have different ways of engaging with the team; not every member will engage and disengage at the same time. Also, people are coping with different types of emotions. We have seen, during the pandemic, how anxiety has taken hold and people have found it difficult to think. Managers of virtual teams must be attuned to these variances and work hard to help virtual team members generate a sense of belonging, which won’t naturally occur because members cannot meet in person or socially.TrustTrust is a critical issue for remote workers. Can you trust somebody if you have never met them? Recent research (2019) by Breuer, Hüffmeier, Hibben and Hertel tells us that trust is more important for virtual teams than face-to-face teams. The research identifies the factors most relevant for building trust in virtual teams. They are:abilitybenevolencepredictabilityintegritytransparencyThe authors offer some practical solutions to help with trust-building. These include creating a database listing team members’ expertise; providing more information about their ability; online profiles; information in email signatures; and online feedback systems and other processes designed to increase trust and encourage closer cooperation between virtual colleagues.Flexible workingFlexible working arrangements are at the heart of remote working, but this can be challenging for managers who have the job of coordination. In an article published in 2007, researchers Dyne, Kossek and Lobel suggest that collaborative time management processes can be ‘designed in’ from the start. Furthermore, employees can be asked to engage in ‘proactive availability’ where each employee is asked to take responsibility for identifying difficulties and notifying others on the team. For example, if a team member’s existing caring responsibility clashes with a meeting, they tell another team member and send questions/comments in advance to the meeting. In this way, time management and scheduling are organised within the team rather than by the manager.MotivationThe researchers also recommend ways in which managers can bolster motivation. Instead of focusing on how often people are present and available (i.e. virtually present and on camera), they suggest nominating specific events that occur at pre-determined times. Focusing on these events creates more flexibility, particularly for part-time workers, and re-orientates energy on outputs rather than on inputs. This, in turn, is likely to increase motivation and keep people focused on the bigger picture as opposed to who is absent from virtual meetings.Remote working is here to stay, and businesses that offer this flexibility will need to have managers who understand the nuances of managing virtual teams and remote workers. Managing people you have never met is enormously challenging, but there are big rewards for businesses in accommodating how people want to organise their work-life balance.Dr Annette Clancy is Assistant Professor of Management at the School of Art History and Cultural Policy at UCD.

Jul 29, 2020
Management

Instead of counting the cost of the current crisis, clients now need their accountants to help them identify and forge a way ahead, writes John Kennedy.Whatever your age or the stage of your career, 2020 is a year like no other. In recent months, your world, your life, and your practice will have changed in a way that no-one thought possible. This has brought great anxiety, stress, and pressure for many. It has disrupted virtually every aspect of life, and it has changed many long-standing priorities and perspectives.At the outset, every conversation was about COVID-19. Then the emphasis began to shift; the focus started to move to how to respond to our unfamiliar new world, to learn how to deal with a dramatic new lifestyle, get better at cooking at home, become more proficient in using technology, and adapt to meeting online.As the days and weeks went on, this shift in emphasis continued. The importance of taking care of our minds as well as our bodies, and supporting each other, came into sharp focus. It is important not to overlook the far-reaching significance of this evolution in thinking. In a world with unforeseen financial pressures, how we connect with others has taken on a revised and revitalised importance and has become established as holding significantly increased value in so many aspects of business life.Reliable, trustworthy customers and clients you can turn to when the pressure is on matter now like never before. The implications will have an impact on your practice, and business in general, for a long time to come.An important lessonOne of the good news stories during the initial stages of the crisis was the way Irish people contributed to fundraising for the Choctaw Nation. As you may know, during the Great Famine in the 1840s, the Choctaw tribe of Native Americans sent much-needed funds to help with famine relief in Ireland.When the coronavirus crisis struck, the Choctaw nation set up a fundraising website. They were at first surprised, and then amazed when donation after donation came in from the Irish community around the world. In an interview about the donations, one of the contributors told this story about an old tribal chief who taught his grandson about the important lessons in life.“There is a fight going on inside me, a far-reaching fight between two wolves. One wolf is evil; he is anger, frustration, sorrow, regret, self-pity, and doubt. The other wolf is good; he is hope, generosity, sensitivity, understanding and confidence. The same fight is going on inside you and every other person too.” The grandson was transfixed. “Which wolf will win?” he asked. The old chief smiled and said: “The wolf you feed.”This is of crucial importance to your work in the months to come. Helping your client feed the good wolf inside themselves should be a central part of your work, as many of your existing clients will feel overwhelmed. They will have come through months of stress and worry, even the optimistic ones who bear it lightly. Many will need to look again at their finances and their financial planning, as many apparent certainties have been overturned. Much has changed, much of it forever.With so much change happening in their lives, it is vital that as their accountant, your relationship with your clients also changes. Clients often have a fixed view of what they should want from their accountant. They believe that they should look to their accountant to prepare accounts, undertake audits, and give tax and compliance advice. In this time of change, your task is to guide them from what they believe they should want to what they genuinely need most.Feed the right wolfMore than ever, clients need you to help them identify what constitutes success in the months and years ahead. Your value will come as much from helping them think clearly as from the technical tasks you carry out.To fully emerge from the coronavirus crisis will take many years. The phrase the ‘new normal’ is much overused, but it holds an important truth. Things may not be normal, but they are certainly going to be new and this is true for every aspect of your clients’ experience – including how they work with their accountant.For almost everyone, the first half of 2020 has been a time of frustration, stress and doubt. If you let your clients see you as the person who will confirm and verify a deeply damaging period for their business, their finances and their lives in a harsh financial record, you are going to be the focus of much of their stress and angst. Left to themselves, it is all too easy for your clients to focus on and feed the bad wolf.For the foreseeable future, every wise accountant will take an active hand in guiding their clients to think about the things they most need. The greatest problem with the COVID-19 crisis, however, has been fear of the unknown. So when it comes to your role, you must replace the fear of the unknown with clarity, understanding, well-thought-out confidence and a path that takes them to a better place. This is the good wolf.Moving from ‘want’ to ‘need’How often have you chatted with your clients about their life, family, hopes and ambitions before ‘getting down to business’? Instead of getting down to the business of counting the cost of the current crisis, however, they now need you to help them see the way ahead. They need you to shape a clear image of a future they can reach. This is not an invitation to become a counsellor or a cheerleader; it is much more important than that.Your role is to help your clients see the commercial realities and show them how to identify each individual stepping stone to get them to the other side of this whole challenging experience. In the short-term, that may well be about survival. You may need to place a sharper focus on identifying new ways to manage cash flow and to help them understand their options in this new reality so they can more effectively chart a course as the emergency financial instruments are removed.While accurate returns and timely compliance will remain part of your role, your real value lies in helping remove your clients’ fear of a future that is worryingly unclear and unfamiliar. Many clients will need to restructure long-standing business practices, to secure new sources of purchase finance, or to change the terms of access to credit.They will need you to help them understand that this will pass, and it will pass most easily and most quickly for those who know how to plan the practical steps to get to that future. The accountants who focus on the need to actively shape the future rather than count the cost of the past or worry about the unknown will stand apart as a source of uncommon, vital value. This will provide a real, tangible return for both you and your clients in the months and years ahead.By helping your clients in this way, you will significantly improve the likelihood of their long-term financial survival. You will open up new dimensions for your relationship with them, binding them to you for years to come. And these new relationships will survive the evolution of traditional accounting as your role as an adviser continues to grow.This is a time to take a firm hand and raise your clients from what they want, to what they need. It is time to help them feed the good wolf.  John Kennedy is a strategic advisor. He has worked with leaders and senior management teams in a range of organisations and sectors.

Jul 29, 2020
Innovation

Dr Michael Hayden provides the accounting practitioner with some food for thought.The COVID-19 pandemic brings a realisation of the importance of certain sectors in our society. While many businesses cease operations, food producers and farm enterprises are acknowledged as essential services.The economic significance of the Irish agricultural industry is well documented. However, in these unprecedented times, the focus has turned to its social importance. This provides an opportunity for the accounting profession to reflect on how it can best assist and support farming businesses, not only in the current circumstances but in the future.A question worth considering is: does the agricultural community reap the full benefit of the extensive knowledge and skills the accountancy profession has to offer? While acknowledging that challenges exist for accountants in delivering their services to farm clients, there are significant opportunities for accountants and farmers to work more effectively together to develop sustainable farm enterprises.Industry contextThe agricultural industry is an integral part of our economy and society. After the economic crisis of 2008, the government primed the agricultural sector to stimulate economic growth and set out ambitious goals for it in the Food Harvest 2020 and subsequent Foodwise 2025 strategy documents. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s 2019 Annual Review and Outlook report outlines the importance of the industry. It claims that food produced in Ireland was exported to over 180 markets worldwide and was valued at €13.7 billion in 2018, which represents 10% of merchandise exports. Additionally, the sector contributed 7.5% of gross national income (GNI) and employed 173,000 people (7.7% of total employment) in 2018.Despite the importance of the industry, when average farm size, farm incomes and dependency on farm subsidies are examined, as well as the average age and training levels of Irish farmers, a picture of economic vulnerability emerges. The National Farm Survey (NFS) is published annually by Teagasc and highlights this vulnerability. The 2019 NFS highlights that 34% of Irish farms were deemed viable, 33% sustainable, and 33% vulnerable. It also reports that the average family farm income (FFI) in Ireland was €23,933 in 2019, which varies significantly across farm types (for example, dairy generated €66,570, tillage generated €34,437 and beef generated €9,188). Furthermore, farming in Ireland remains reliant on subsidies which, on average, accounted for 77% of FFI in 2019.Experts warn of another economic crisis post-COVID-19, and there is no doubt that our agricultural industry will attract renewed focus. Furthermore, Brexit represents a significant external risk for Irish agriculture with potentially far-reaching economic, social and cultural consequences. In this context, it is perhaps more important than ever that the accounting profession supports the agricultural community in developing sustainable farm enterprises by assisting farmers in making informed financial decisions based on sound financial management information.Challenges in providing services to farm clientsBefore exploring the opportunities for accountants to provide support to the agricultural community, it is important to acknowledge some challenges that exist in assisting farmers in managing their enterprise.Despite the economic vulnerability of many farms, research shows that most farmers spend little time on financial management. A dislike of conducting financial management activities exists in the farming community. Indeed, they are often viewed as a necessary evil and do not always fit well with the identity of what farmers see as important farm management activities. There are other identity-related issues: many farmers are quite secretive about their financial affairs; some are naturally reluctant to seek farm management advice; many tend to rely on intuition and experience in managing their business as opposed to relying on financial information.As a result of the lack of engagement by farmers with financial management in the day-to-day management of their business, book-keeping systems can be relatively unsophisticated. There is a tendency to monitor bank balances (cash flow), and only a minority maintain management accounting records.The average age of a farmer in Ireland is 59 years. This high age profile is a well-documented concern for the industry. In terms of financial management, older farmers are less likely to invest in their farm and are less likely to strive for innovation and efficiencies.Historically, farmers view accountants as providing a statutory and compliance role, such as filing annual tax returns, with little focus on value-added services. Also, the cost of such value-added services is a barrier as quite often, farmers are unwilling to pay for such services.This profile of the farming community suggests that there are limited opportunities for accountants to provide value-added services to farmers. However, there are ‘green shoots’ that give cause for optimism.Green shoots to exploreIn recent years, there has been a considerable shift in the industry. This shift is transforming the Irish agricultural landscape and providing opportunities for accountants and farmers to work more effectively together to develop sustainable farm enterprises.Policy changes have resulted in some fundamental structural reforms, which have provided opportunities for growth. For example, milk quota abolition under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has resulted in considerable investment and expansion in the dairy sector. While it is acknowledged that farmers tend not to engage extensively and/or dislike financial management, the mindset of many farmers in this respect is changing. In my research, I discovered that where farmers are making strategic farm expansion decisions, there is a considerable degree of engagement with their accountants.Many traditional farm enterprises are diversifying and exploring new markets for their produce. For example, there is an increase in the production of artisan food products directly by farmers, alternative supply chains where farmers sell their produce directly from farm-to-market, and an increased focus on organic food production. These trends and the movement from the traditional farm production system often bring a renewed focus on profit margins, cost management and overall financial management.Farm partnerships and the incorporation of farm enterprises are becoming more widespread in the industry. Such changes in legal structure provide additional opportunities for accountants who have expert knowledge in terms of tax, legal, and succession planning advice.As a result of the above developments, younger farmers are being enticed into the industry. Agricultural courses in colleges and universities have seen strong demand in the past decade, which is very positive. Numerous policy measures have also been enacted to encourage generational renewal, including changes to land leasing arrangements, while tax reliefs/incentives have been developed to facilitate younger farmers entering the industry.These transformations to the Irish agricultural landscape have encouraged farmers to be more open to engaging the value-added services of accountants. This provides opportunities for accountants to develop successful working relationships with farmers, whereby farmers could significantly benefit from the expert knowledge and skills that accountants have to offer.ConclusionThere is vast potential for accountants and farmers to work more effectively together to develop sustainable farm enterprises. Navigating the financial challenges of COVID-19 and Brexit are just two reasons why each farmer should look to his or her trusted accountant for support and expertise as the farming community strives to meet the critical societal demands for a sustainable food supply.Dr Michael Hayden FCA is Assistant Professor of Accounting at Maynooth University.

Jul 29, 2020
Business Law

The UK Government has recently made urgent and radical changes to insolvency laws, which may help companies survive the COVID-19 crisis, write Michael Drumm and Sean Cavanagh.The Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 represents the most significant reform of insolvency legislation in over 20 years. It was fast-tracked through Parliament and became law on 26 June. The laws apply to the whole of the UK, and specific clauses relating to Northern Ireland have been included.Some of the new changes are permanent, and some are temporary. The permanent changes focus on reforms in three key areas:A moratorium;A ban on termination provisions; andA new restructuring plan.The temporary measures relate to the suspension of the wrongful trading regime, the suspension of statutory demands and winding-up petitions where financial difficulties arise directly from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and some temporary extensions concerning company filing requirements.This article is necessarily high-level, and readers are encouraged to speak to their advisors to explore the detail.Permanent changesA new ‘free-standing’ moratoriumThis mechanism differs from existing moratoria in that it is a standalone procedure and does not necessarily need to be a gateway to any formal insolvency process.The application In most cases, the moratorium can be initiated by merely filing the application with the court (a court order is not required). The application must contain:• a statement by the directors that, in their view, the company is, or is likely to become, unable to pay its debts; and• a statement from the proposed monitor (who must be an insolvency practitioner) that the company is an ‘eligible’ company and that, in their view, the moratorium would likely result in the rescue of the company as a going concern.Length of the moratoriumIt will last for an initial period of 20 business days, which can be extended to 40 business days by the directors (no creditor approval required). This 40-day period can be extended for up to one year, but only with creditor or court approval. A further extension beyond one year is also possible by applying to the court.Each application for an extension must be accompanied by a statement from the directors and the monitor.Effect of the moratoriumIt will prevent the enforcement of security, the crystallisation of a floating charge, the commencement of insolvency proceedings or forfeiture of a lease.The company will not be obliged to pay most pre-moratorium debts during the moratorium, but there are some exceptions (e.g. wages and salaries, finance loans and leases). However, debts falling due during the moratorium must be paid so access to cash or funding will be vital.The monitorDuring the moratorium, the directors remain in control of the business and a monitor oversees the process. The monitor is an officer of the court and as part of their role, they must protect creditors’ interests while also ensuring compliance with the conditions of the moratorium.For the period of the COVID-19 crisis (at present, up to 30 September 2020), the monitor can disregard any worsening of the company’s financial position that is attributable to the pandemic, providing a going concern rescue is still likely.How will it end?The moratorium can come to an end via:an agreement/restructuring with its creditors, possibly via a company voluntary arrangement (CVA);a scheme of arrangement;a court order;termination by the monitor if he/she determines that the conditions have not been fulfilled; orautomatically, on expiry of the time limit.The hope is that the company will emerge from the moratorium having achieved a rescue, but if this is not the case, a winding up or administration might happen. Where this insolvency procedure happens within 12 weeks of the end of the moratorium, certain unpaid debts in the moratorium and certain other debts have ‘super priority’ for payment ahead of other debts.A new restructuring planThis new procedure will closely resemble the existing scheme of arrangement, which is a statutory legal process that allows a company to restructure its debt. It is not an insolvency procedure but must be approved by the court.The restructuring plan will require two court hearings, is likely to be technically complex, and will be expensive as a result. Thus, it may not turn out to be a practical solution for smaller SMEs in distressed scenarios.The principal advantage of the new restructuring plan is that it will offer the ability to cramdown one or more classes of dissenting creditors or shareholders. In effect, this means that even if a class of creditor does not vote for the plan, the court may still sanction a cramdown provided certain conditions are met, including that no creditor is worse off than the relevant alternative.The procedure is more likely to be used in more complex and larger distressed company scenarios, particularly with bond-holder involvement, meaning it is unlikely to be used regularly in Northern Ireland.Suspension of termination clauses for suppliers of goods and servicesWhen a company enters an insolvency or restructuring procedure, suppliers will often stop or attempt to stop supplies by virtue of the terms of its supply contract.This new Act prohibits the termination of any contract for the supply of goods and services to a company by reason of the company entering into an insolvency procedure. This will include the new moratorium procedure outlined above, administration, CVA, liquidation or a restructuring plan. However, this prohibition does not apply to schemes of arrangementAlso, a supplier company cannot insist on any disadvantageous amended terms (e.g. significant price increases). There are some exceptions to this suspension, however, such as contracts for the supply of services from insurers and banks.A temporary exemption (available during the COVID-19 period) to this supply restriction will be available to ‘small’ businesses. This may be of importance to Northern Ireland supplier companies, as many of them will qualify as ‘small’ for this purpose.A company can also apply to the court to terminate supply where it can prove ‘hardship’. ‘Hardship’ is unfortunately not defined as yet.Temporary changesThese temporary changes only apply during the period of the COVID-19 crisis.Suspension of the offence of wrongful tradingThis new Act directs the courts to assume that a director is not responsible for the worsening of the financial position of the company that occurs during this period (currently to 30 September).This reduces, but critically, does not remove, the threat of personal liability on company directors arising from ‘wrongful trading’. This temporary suspension only applies to ‘wrongful’ trading – it does not exempt directors from possible personal liability arising from ‘fraudulent trading’.Temporary suspension of statutory demands and winding petitionsThe Act temporarily removes the threat of statutory demands and winding-up proceedings, but only where COVID-19 has had a worsening effect on the company. In these circumstances, statutory demands will be void if served on a company during this period. However, a company will not be protected from the making of a winding-up order where the financial difficulties of the company would have arisen regardless of the effects of COVID-19.AnalysisThese new measures will be welcomed as they have the potential to help many viable companies that have been directly impacted by the effects of this unprecedented crisis.The intention of the new moratorium is that it will be a ‘debtor-in-possession’ process whereby the monitor acts in a limited capacity as overseer. This follows recent trends in some administrations (e.g. Debenhams) where administrators have provided consent to directors to make certain decisions via a ‘consent protocol agreement’ in what many are calling ‘light touch’ administrations.Only time will tell whether this new moratorium procedure is preferred over the traditional administration process, but recent developments certainly indicate a move towards a more rescue-orientated restructuring culture, which will surely be required to save viable businesses and address the unique nature of the upcoming economic environment.Michael Drumm is a licensed insolvency practitioner and an advisory partner at CavanaghKelly.Sean Cavanagh is a Founding Partner of CavanaghKelly, a licensed insolvency practitioner and Chair of the Insolvency Technical Committee at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Jul 29, 2020
Management

In 2010, Neil Hughes set out the seven Cs framework to help businesses navigate the great recession. Fast forward a decade, and these principles remain more pertinent than ever.Are you familiar with the old story of the two hikers in the woods? They come across a bear who starts to chase them. One hiker stops and begins changing from hiking boots to running shoes. The other hiker says, “I can’t believe that you think you will outrun the bear just because you change your shoes!” The first hiker replies, “I don’t need to outrun the bear. I just need to outrun you!” The moral of the story? When trading through difficult times, those who are best prepared are most likely to survive.Considering that the current community mentality and enthusiasm is likely to fade when the effects of the recession start to bite and businesses are striving to outperform their peers, this sentiment is even more significant. Many business owners are currently trying to adopt the best strategies to save their businesses. A common characteristic in many business failures is mismanagement. Although not deliberate, many people do not take advice, make the wrong decisions, and incur avoidable losses.With so many external factors at play, how can you best position your business on the road to recovery? What course of action do you need to take to ensure that your firm not only survives, but emerges stronger than before? The seven Cs present a blueprint for business owners and managers who are working hard to beat the competition and overcome significant challenges.1. CounselMaking well-informed and rational decisions under increasing pressure and uncertain conditions borders on the impossible, which is why seeking counsel at an early stage is the first step to pivoting a business during a crisis. How has my business been affected by the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic? What financial shape is it in? How can I tackle the ‘here and now’ while turning my focus to the future? Avoid falling into the trap of taking unqualified advice; seek guidance from a select group of professionals such as your Chartered Accountant, your solicitor, and your funder. Work with them to formulate a practical and comprehensive recovery plan.2. CommunicationDon’t underestimate the importance of honesty, especially when things are uncertain. Communicate your financial position with the people and groups to whom you are indebted – the taxman, lenders, landlords and suppliers. You will be amazed at the goodwill this generates. Not only are your creditors likely to appreciate your honesty, but it will also take some of the pressure off, which may facilitate better decision-making. Unbridled transparency builds trust, which will help you maintain your integrity. This, in turn, will buy you more time and with time, many things become possible. Start with the truth and go from there.3. CooperationThe current crisis has changed the way we work. With businesses now forced to rely on different forms of communication, relationships between business owners and employees may have changed. Now is not the time for ambiguity. Your staff play a crucial role in helping your business stay afloat during unstable times. Communicate with them clearly and frequently. Be forthright about the condition of your business; they will respect you for it and are likely to show loyalty in return. Failure to secure their cooperation will significantly dilute your business’s chance of survival.4. Clarity of purposeCreate a new business plan that will provide greater clarity on all functions from marketing, finance and accounting to operations, products and services, and distribution. Adopt an entrepreneurial attitude. While there is no doubt that this crisis has presented grave difficulties, it also provides plenty of scope for innovation. Business leaders are stepping out of their comfort zones and thinking outside the box. There are opportunities to be found if you look hard enough. Ask yourself: “how can I ensure my business not only survives, but thrives?” Rediscover the sense of excitement you felt when you first set up your business. This will drive you forward with clarity of purpose.5. CostCost reduction should be a crucial part of your business strategy. Many business leaders will find themselves implementing cost-cutting measures in response to declining revenue, profitability, and reduced access to credit. Instigate a company-wide series of targeted cost cuts. Don’t make arbitrary or general cuts that may adversely impact long-term goals. The main areas for potential savings in any business lie in eliminating waste, seeking out and demanding the best prices for supplies and services, and carrying out certain tasks in-house that were previously contracted out to third parties.6. CashA swift recovery often boils down to one thing: cash flow. Credit controllers work hard to bring in the money and are instrumental in keeping businesses ticking over. Cash control means releasing the ‘lock-up’ of your business (i.e. the latent profit that is locked up in your stock, work-in-progress and debtors). It is a lack of cash that causes many businesses to fail during times of hardship, not a lack of profit. And even profitable businesses will fail if they run out of cash.7. CustomersWith normal operations out of whack, it may be harder for organisations to focus on exceptional customer service. However, now more than ever, customers are exceedingly important. Engage with your customers, ensuring you are adapting to their changing needs. A business owner must strive to continually ensure that the customer’s experience of a product or service is as pleasant, straightforward, and satisfying as possible. During an economic slump, it is your customers who will carry you through.Neil Hughes FCA is Managing Partner at Baker Tilly Ireland and author of Beating the Recession: The Seven Cs of Business Recovery, which is published by Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Jul 29, 2020
Management

Michael Clohosey considers the economic impacts of COVID-19 based on a series of interviews with business executives in the Zurich region.Switzerland shares some similarities with Ireland. Both are small countries with very open economies and punch above their weight on the global stage. Both economies also have a high reliance on the services sector, with the pharmaceutical/healthcare industry a large proportion of the industrial sector. Based in the Zurich area for almost ten years, I thought it would be interesting to share some perspective from this part of Europe, focusing on the impact of COVID-19 on businesses in Switzerland. I interviewed finance leaders from various industries, and this process provided some interesting perspectives on the current crisis and offered a view of its medium-term impact.The type of industry in which businesses are active is the main determinant of the impact of COVID-19 in Switzerland. For example, one domestic electrical supply company involved in electrical installations for both commercial and residential property felt only a marginal impact on demand. Another company involved in the production of control devices for heating and ventilation systems, and which has a much larger global presence, is forecasting a slight decrease in demand in the medium-term. On the other hand, an international education company suffered an immediate, almost complete drop in revenue. Once countries started to impose restrictions and prohibit essential travel, this required enormous effort and collaboration from their external partners to ensure that their students abroad were safe and could find a way to get home. While facing a severe decline in revenue and an uncertain future, the firm needed to focus solely on the welfare of its customers stranded in locations like South Africa, China and Australia.Business responseThe logistical response of the Swiss Government, including the travel restrictions, is well-covered in other sources. I will instead focus on the Government’s economic response to the crisis, which was quite strong – even if it was not immediate. One must remember that Switzerland is not part of the EU and does not, therefore, have ready access to the financial safeguards and protection the EU provides. In total, the Swiss Government set aside more than €61 billion to support the economy. This will create a massive deficit in the national budget, but the amount that must be borrowed is significantly lower due to the Government’s large cash reserves. Some economists estimate that the debt to GDP ratio will increase from 26.7% in 2019 to approximately 34% in 2020, easily meeting the eurozone’s Maastricht criteria. The Government’s measures, which focused on different target groups, aimed to safeguard jobs, guarantee wages and support the self-employed. Measures were also taken in the field of culture and sport to prevent bankruptcies and to cushion the financial consequences. Furthermore, there were provisions to delay payment and temporarily waive late payment interest on social security contributions and various taxes.Many businesses availed of this support, especially those in the travel and tourism trade. I know of many companies that eased their liquidity concerns by quickly accessing interest-free government loans of up to CHF 0.5 billion. Companies affected were also entitled to apply for what is termed “short-term working”. This was extremely helpful to the restaurant sector, from which employees were made temporarily redundant. Provided employees were still paid full salaries, employers received 80% of the cost from the Government. Rental payments remained privately managed. Some landlords were open to negotiation, especially where there were obvious financial difficulties on the tenant side. This flexibility to negotiate seemed to vary depending on whether the landlord was a private or commercial institution. Solutions found included deferral of rent payment. In an apparent contradiction, there appeared to be cases where landlords were more open to negotiating when they saw that the tenants were granted access to the Government’s interest-free business loans.There were short- and medium-term impacts on business, including the supply chain. One company that supplies leather to Asia for shoe manufacture suffered a drop in production due to the difficulty in exporting raw materials. Ship cargo returning from Asia was almost non-existent, and any possible exports were therefore changed to air cargo. An educational travel company I spoke to needed to review agreements with all educational partners abroad due to the number of re-bookings where students sought to change school. As we see with the airline sector, re-bookings are preferable to cash refunds. However, this is cumbersome in the educational travel industry due to the number of actors involved. Some firms changed their business models. Third-level institutions, for example, were in the main very quick to react. They established management task forces and brought their curricula online. Online education is one of the fastest-growing global industries, and the pandemic has only increased its expansion.Focus areas also changed in finance departments. The old maxim of “cash is king” was never as important as it is now. Companies that were not so well accustomed to short-term cash planning even hired external consultants to create 13-week cash forecasts. Fixed yearly budgets increasingly became rolling forecasts, with new scenario planning to account for the effects of the pandemic.Seven insights from the COVID-19 crisisA comprehensive review of organisations’ state of preparedness for such an unforeseen circumstance, their reactions to it, and the enforced planning for a new economic reality produced many new lessons. It also underlined the importance of established business principles.Business agility: we saw the importance of agility in how quickly some educational establishments brought their curricula online. Many advanced education establishments are already planning to generate a greater share of revenue through e-delivery.Securing the supply chain: it is very difficult to plan for an almost total transport shut-down. However, we saw in the example above of the shoe production company that alternative methods of transport can be put in place, albeit at a higher cost and risk. This same firm also discovered and used shoe manufacturers closer to the source of the raw material.Strong partnerships: strong business relations, especially with suppliers and customers, are more important than ever in times of crisis. One company I interviewed closed one of its largest partnership deals through online meetings. This was mainly due to the trust already created.Working from home: many firms, especially those in the financial services industry, have identified that productivity has not decreased while employees have worked from home. This has allowed them to offer it as an alternative for the future. In some cases, property leases can be reviewed due to the resultant decreased need for office space. It is therefore expected that the dynamics of cities like Zurich, which until now had large office space occupied by banks and financial institutions, will partially change in the future.Discretionary travel: discretionary costs, especially travel, were already in focus before the lockdown. The fact that many businesses functioned quite well without travel has led to a further appraisal of its value.Cash is king: the funds disclaimer says “past success does not guarantee future performance”. However, past success in the form of cash reserves can guarantee business survival in such times. Even more attention should be paid now to short- and medium-term cash planning.Scenario planning in forecasting: we have seen how macro events can have a drastic impact. Businesses can increase their ability to respond by replacing traditional budgeting with frequently updated forecasting models, which include scenario planning for changes in the economic environment. The conventional practice of involving all departments for budgets or forecasts can be reviewed to facilitate the agility required. Responsibility for financial planning and forecasting cannot be delegated from the finance function.A snapshot of the economic impact of the crisisAs Switzerland and Ireland are (at the time of writing) emerging from travel and business restrictions, I thought it helpful to review some key indicators of the financial impact of the recent upheaval. According to projections from the OECD’s latest economic outlook, similar to the world economy, Switzerland and Ireland are not expected to be at Q4 2019 levels of GDP until Q4 2021. This is projected for each of the two scenarios, which they estimate are equally probable. One scenario anticipates a second wave of infections with renewed lockdowns before the end of 2020. The other scenario anticipates the avoidance of another major outbreak. Refer to Table 1 for the historic percentage changes to real GDP and forecasted changes to real GDP based on economic projections for a single wave of infections.Switzerland and Ireland are expected to suffer similar declines in GDP. This perhaps is logical, given that both economies are driven mainly by the services and pharmaceutical/healthcare sectors. Interestingly tourism, one of the most severely affected industries, is not a very significant part of total GDP; it represents approximately 3% in both countries. Table 1 shows that Switzerland and Ireland have recorded quite different increases in real GDP in the last 20 years. Switzerland’s growth rate has been very stable at an average of 2% per annum, and almost exactly replicates the growth rate of ‘advanced economies’. Ireland’s growth rates, on the other hand, have been higher and much more variable.Putting recent lessons to workIt is not surprising that the global pandemic has impacted the economy in Switzerland as much as it has in Ireland and the rest of the world. People have changed their behaviours, both involuntarily and voluntarily. I have acquaintances who, up until the crisis, never purchased items online. I am sure that countless others in Ireland have just recently started shopping on their electronic devices.The online education industry is booming. Businesses have been quick to change their supply chains and include alternatives. They have also altered their business models, which we see most markedly in the education sector. Perhaps the increased effective use of video communications tools like Zoom and Skype has brought the possibility of education for the masses to greater prominence.The importance of classic principles, like strong partnerships based on trust and communication, has not diminished with decreased face-to-face contact. In fact, the opportunities for many more partnerships have actually increased in line with people’s confidence in, and use of, the internet. Global industry round-tables can be attended from one’s own home and without all the time and travel that was before deemed necessary. Amid the adverse effects of recent months, let us aspire in Switzerland, Ireland and elsewhere to consolidate and develop the positive aspects and put the lessons to work in our businesses.Michael Clohosey FCA is a senior finance executive based in Switzerland.

Jul 29, 2020
Feature Interview

Imelda Hurley has had a challenging start to her role as CEO at Coillte, but her training and experience have proved invaluable in dealing with the fallout from COVID-19, writes Barry McCall.Imelda Hurley’s career journey to becoming CEO of Coillte in November 2019 saw her work on every continent for a range of businesses spanning food to technology. That varied background has helped prepare her for the unprecedented disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.“We have been working remotely since March, and the business has kept going throughout the pandemic,” she says. “We closed the office straight away and have had 300 people working remotely since then. Our primary focus since has been on the health, safety and wellbeing of our colleagues, and against that backdrop, on ensuring that a sustainable, viable and vibrant Coillte emerges from the crisis.”A diverse challengeThis has not been as straightforward as she makes it sound. “Coillte is a very diverse business,” she adds. “We are the largest forestry business in the country, the largest outdoor recreation provider, we enable about one-third of Ireland’s wind energy, and we have our board manufacturing business as well. We needed to continue operating as an essential service provider. That remit to operate was both a challenge and an opportunity.”The company’s timber products are essential for manufacturing the pallets required to move goods into and out of the country. “Some of our board products were used in the construction of the Nightingale Hospital in London,” she adds. “And the wind energy we enable provides electricity for people’s homes and the rest of the country.”Organisationally, the task has been to enable people to continue to do their jobs. However, the challenge varied depending on the nature of the operation involved. “In forest operations, people usually work at a distance from each other anyway, so they were able to keep going. That said, we did suspend a range of activities. We needed to continue our factory operations, but we had to slow down and reconfigure the lines for social distancing. And we kept the energy business going.”Those challenges were worsened by an ongoing issue associated with delays in the licensing of forestry activities and by the unusually dry spring weather, which created ideal conditions for forest fire outbreaks. “Even a typical forest fire season is very difficult,” she notes. “But this one was particularly difficult. In one single weekend, we had 50 fires which had to be fought while maintaining physical distancing. Very early on, we put in place fire-fighting protocols, which enabled us to keep our colleagues safe while they were out there fighting fires, and to support them in every way possible.”The lure of industryHer interest in business dates back to her childhood on the family farm near Clonakilty in Cork. “I was always interested in it, and I enjoyed accountancy in school and college at the University of Limerick. I did a work placement in Glen Dimplex and that consolidated my view that Chartered Accountancy was a good qualification that would give me the basis for an interesting career.”She went on to a training contract with Arthur Andersen in Dublin. “The firm was one of the Big 6 at the time,” she recalls. “I availed of several international opportunities while I worked there and worked in every continent apart from Asia. I really enjoyed working in Arthur Andersen, but I always had a desire to sit on the other side of the table. Some accountants prefer practice, but I enjoy the cut and thrust of business life.”That desire led her to move to Greencore. “I wanted to be near the centre of decision-making and where strategy was developed. I stayed there for ten years, learning every day.”And then she moved on to something quite different. “Sometimes in life, an opportunity comes along that makes you pause and think, ‘if I turn it down, I might regret it forever’. The opportunity was to become CFO of a Silicon Valley-backed business known as PCH, which stood for Pacific Coast Highway, which was based in Hong Kong and mainland China with offices in Ireland and San Francisco. It was involved in the supply chain for the technology industry and creating, developing and delivering industry-leading products for some of the largest brands in the world.”The experience proved invaluable. “It changed the way I thought. It was a very fast-moving business that was growing very quickly. I got to live and work in Asia and understand a new culture. I took Chinese lessons and the rest of the team took English lessons. There were 15 nationalities on the team. It was remarkably diverse in terms of demographics, gender, culture, you name it. That diversity means you find solutions you would not have found otherwise.“I spent three years with PCH and ran up half a million air miles in that time. It had a very entrepreneurial-driven start-up culture. The philosophy is to bet big, win big or fail fast. It was a whole new dynamic for me. I also got to spend a lot of time in San Francisco, the hub of the digital industry, and that was a wonderful experience as well.”Returning to IrelandImelda then returned to Ireland to become CFO of Origin Enterprises plc. “As I built my career, I always had the ambition to become CFO of a public company. And I always believed that with hard work, determination and a willingness to take a slightly different path, you will succeed. Greencore and Origin Enterprises gave me experience at both ends of the food and agriculture business; they took me from farm to fork. A few more years in Asia might have been good, but Origin Enterprises was the right opportunity to take at the time.”Her next career move saw her take up the reins as CEO of Coillte on 4 November 2019. “I always wanted to do different things, work with different organisations and with different stakeholder groups,” she points out. “Coillte is a very different business. It is the custodian of 7% of the land in Ireland, on which we manage forests for multiple benefits including wood supply. It is a fascinating company. It is an outdoor recreation enabler, with 3,000km of trails and 12 forest parks. We get 18 million visits to forests each year. We also have our forest products business – Medite Smartply. We operate across the full lifecycle of wood. We plant it and it takes 30-40 years to produce timber.”Imelda’s varied career has given her a unique perspective, which is helping her deal with the current challenges faced by Coillte. “Throughout my career, I have worked in different ownership structures and for a variety of stakeholders. I worked for public companies, a Silicon Valley-backed business, and have been in a private equity-backed business as well. Now, I am in a commercial semi-state. That has taken me across a very broad spectrum and I have learned that a business needs to be very clear on a set of things: its strategy, its values, who its stakeholders are, and how it will deliver.”Entering the ‘new’ worldWhile Coillte has kept going during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is still affected by the economic fallout. “We are experiencing a very significant impact operationally, particularly so when building sites were closed,” she says. “There has been some domestic increase in timber requirements since then, and there has been an increasing demand for pallet wood. That has had a significant financial impact and it’s why I’m focused on delivering a sustainable, vibrant and viable Coillte. We remain very focused on our operations, business and strategy. In the new post-COVID-19 world, we will need a strategy refresh. We must look at what that new world looks like, and not just in terms of COVID-19. We still have a forestry licensing crisis and Brexit to deal with.”The business does boast certain advantages going into that new world. “Our business is very relevant to that world. The need for sustainable wood products for construction is so relevant. Forests provide a carbon sink. The recreation facilities and wind energy generated on the land we own are very valuable. It may be a difficult 12-18 months or longer, but Coillte is an excellent place to be. In business, you manage risk. What we are managing is uncertainty, and that requires a dynamic and fast-paced approach. Time is the enemy now, and we are using imperfect information to make decisions, but we have to work with that.”Coillte will begin the first phase of its office reopening programme in line with Phase 4 of the Government’s plan. “We have social distancing in place and it’s quite strange to see the floor markings in the offices. We are doing it in four phases and carried out surveys to understand employee preferences. We then overlaid our office capacity with those preferences. Our employees have been fantastic in the way they supported each other right the way through the crisis.”Words of wisdomDespite the current challenges, she says she has thoroughly enjoyed the role since day one. “It would be wrong to say it’s not a challenge to walk into a business you were never involved in before and take charge, but I have a very good team. None of us succeeds on our own. We need the support of the team around us. The only way to succeed is to debate the best ideas and when there isn’t alignment, I make the final decision, but only after listening to what others have to say. You are only as good as the people around you. You’ve got to empower those people and let them get on with it.”Imelda believes her training as a Chartered Accountant has also helped. “It facilitated me in building a blended career. The pace of change is so incredibly quick today and if we do not evolve and learn, we lose relevance. Small pieces of education are also very valuable in that respect. Over the years, I did several courses including at Harvard Business School and Stanford. I love learning and I’m not finished yet. I’m a firm believer in lifelong learning.”Her advice to other Chartered Accountants starting out in their careers is to seek opportunities to broaden their experience. “Learn to be willing to ask for what you want,” she says. “Look for opportunities outside finance in commercial, procurement or operations. Look through alternative lenses to bring value. Make sure you are learning and challenging yourself all the time. Keep asking what you have added to become the leader you want to be someday.”And don’t settle for what you don’t want. “Be sure it is the career you want, rather than the one you think you want or need. It’s too easy to look at someone successful and want to emulate them. You have to ask if that is really for you. This role particularly suits me. I love the outdoors and I get to spend time out of the office in forests and recreational areas. That resonates particularly well with me.”

Jul 28, 2020
Management

How can you keep the momentum going on recruitment and selection during the pandemic? Shay Dalton offers tips on how to maintain your employer brand and attract the best candidates in a digital space.During these uncertain times, recruitment and selection is still a priority for organisations who are trying to maintain revenue and growth targets. Keeping recruitment going through these times will place firms in good stead. Here are some helpful tips for recruitment during the pandemic.Getting hold of candidates may be easierOne distinct positive from a hiring perspective reported on by the BBC is that recruitment firms have found that reaching candidates has been easier than usual. With many employees working from home, or not able to work at all, phone calls are more likely to get answered, and interview scheduling is much easier than usual. What is more, many companies have put their recruitment efforts on hold for the time being, meaning that there is less competition for top candidates. This makes the current time ripe picking for growing firms, and a great opportunity to attract some of the best candidates.Develop a streamlined virtual process for remote interviewingWith expert predictions suggesting that COVID-19 may continue to cause disruptions for weeks and months to come, getting an effective online recruitment process up and running is crucial. With governments reporting that social distancing restrictions may be in place for some time, it is safer, more convenient and beneficial for companies to have a streamlined process for online recruitment.Move group interviews to shorter one-to-ones with key members of the teamUsing video conferencing apps for group interviews can be somewhat challenging. People inadvertently talk over one another, which can make it difficult for interviewees to keep on top of what is going on. Instead of conducting group interviews, you might consider shorter, one-to-one calls with interviewees. It is also worthwhile testing your audio and video before the call, to avoid hiccups that could look unprofessional or detrimental to your brand.Employer branding is keySelling the employer brand to would-be new recruits is somewhat harder without the ability for the candidate to visit and properly meet the team. To get beyond this problem, make sure that all online information is up to date and accurately represents both the employer brand. Following government guidance for businesses is essential for maintenance of a good brand reputation. Firms that flout guidance are being vilified in the media and are less likely to be considered good options by employees. Make sure that press reports of your firm stay positive!Focus on communication and transparencyManaging expectations will be an important part of the process. Companies that are hiring need to communicate to candidates that they will be using remote interviews for decision making. Expectations should also be set around the fact that more and more roles are likely to commence remotely at first, and this will mean remote onboarding of the successful candidate.Shay Dalton is the Managing Director of Lincoln Recruitment.

Jul 23, 2020
Careers

For some, staying on top of the day-to-day workload is achievement enough as we continue to work remotely. But if you have the time, energy and inkling, there’s plenty of resources – free and paid – to help you develop your skillset in your own time. MasterClass MasterClass has caught people’s imagination in recent years with it’s stellar line-up of lecturers. You can learn about self-expression and authenticity with Ru Paul, for example, or the art of negotiation with Chris Voss. Courses are presented in video lecture format and while the cost is significant (€199 for an annual membership), there’s plenty in there to help you build your soft skills and perhaps get to grips with a new hobby (skateboarding with Tony Hawk, anyone?). CLICK HERE  The Great Courses Plus The Great Courses Plus is another on-demand video service focused on lifelong learning. The site uses award-winning lecturers to present lecture series on everything from economics and finance to professional and personal growth. However, it is a subscription service – €17.99 monthly or €159.99 annually. CLICK HERE FutureLearn FutureLearn offers a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions. Part-owned by The Open University, the platform offers everything from short courses to online degrees. Learners can also upgrade from their basic (free) subscription to receive a printed and digital Certificate of Achievement or Statement of Participation where eligible. CLICK HERE  Coursera Coursea offers a 3,900 courses up to masters degree level in partnership with leading universities and companies such as Stanford and Google. According to the website, 87% of people learning for professional development reported career benefits such as a promotion, raise or starting a new career. That may not be at the forefront of your mind just now, but it’s another reminder that upskilling often has tangible results.  CLICK HERE Institute Webinars When the lockdown began in March 2020, Chartered Accountants Ireland moved quickly to support its students and members. Its new webinar series has proved particularly popular, with members signing up for a range of expert-led sessions on everything from authentic leadership to voluntary liquidation procedures. Past webinars can also be streamed on demand. CLICK HERE Learn something new every day If you’re strapped for time but would still like to develop your knowledge base, Highbrow delivers five-minute lessons to your inbox each day. You can choose from more than 300 topics and get your day off to a productive start before you’ve finished your first coffee! CLICK HERE

Jul 22, 2020
Careers

In times of crisis, it is common to feel stuck – even defeated. But one simple trick can help you move forward and, if embraced fully, reach new heights writes Neil O’Brien. Resilience is described as the ability to recover quickly from setbacks or disappointments, or the ability of a substance to spring back into shape. While this is true, it can be a little misleading and doesn’t communicate the full range of resilience. I have coached individuals and teams in business and sport for almost 30 years. At some point in our work together, I ask each client about previous setbacks and disappointments, and what they did to recover. On the face of it, they all did the same thing – but some went further and used their setback to reach greater heights. This article is about them: what they did, and what we can learn from them. But first, some background… Survival resilience It is human nature to get your act together in response to a crisis. It is part of the human condition, pre-programmed from prehistoric times. Setbacks effectively trigger a survival instinct, and we have come to describe this response as ‘coping’. So, in response to the current global pandemic, we all initially went straight into coping mode, which is precisely the right thing to do. In response to our sense of loss of how things should be, we set up new daily routines and new habits that require constant tweaking and adjusting. We are also hyper-vigilant because we feel like we are in continual danger. Because of this siege mentality, it is possible to be exhausted each day without actually having achieved anything. Welcome to the coping zone and survival resilience. This is the first level of resilience, but it is important not to get stuck here. How do you move on? The answer comes from my coaching clients, mentioned above. Strategic resilience I have asked people who suffered health setbacks, business setbacks, and career disappointments what they did to recover. They all said the same thing – they went back to basics. They acknowledged that their confidence was gone, and their self-belief had evaporated, but they also wanted to move on (from coping) so they knew they had to do something. The best investment, then, is brilliant basics – they did the basics of good health, good business, and career development so well and so consistently that they started to feel better. Then, when their mood changed, they began to think better. They then got their shape and discipline back, and their confidence and self-belief flooded back too. Neglect the basics and you will have a setback to deal with; they admitted this also. Strategic resilience is a daily commitment to brilliant basics – basics that are important to you. However, there is one other form of resilience that most people underestimate. Success resilience Having established that resilience is about never neglecting the basics, there is another chapter in the story. If we leave setback and disappointment for the moment and go to the opposite end of the spectrum, to effortless success and achievement, it turns out that brilliant basics are what separate the world’s best from everyone else. The most outstanding performers in any field are the best because they have achieved mastery through a daily commitment to brilliant basics. They make it look easy. They don’t have some magic ingredient that no one else has; they just never neglect the basics. As a result, they get better and better at them, and they don’t stop at strategic resilience – they keep pushing on. A professional marathon runner told me that in almost every race, he ‘hits the wall’ at around the 16-mile mark. He has a mental and physical crisis. Part of him says: “I can’t go on, I’m gonna quit”. He has learned to pick something 10 yards ahead, and the deal is that he will run to that point and then quit. And then he does it again, and again, and again until he starts to feel better. Amid a full body and brain crisis, the ability to do that is advanced sports psychology. This is an example of something really basic, a ten-yard race, that becomes genius. The crisis eventually passes and he gets his shape back in the form of great posture, breathing, and stride length. And sometimes, he even wins the race. Your ten yards I believe that the core basics of good accounting, of great sales, of top customer service, of excellent health, of top-class golf haven’t changed much. The question is: who is doing them better than everyone else? People will want to know their secret but when they find out what it is, they might even be disappointed because it’s so simple. There may be times in life or in work when you don’t feel like you can go on. If, in that moment, you can just cover your equivalent of ten yards, you will be doing genius work and effort. There will be days when we will champion gold medals, awards, and stretch targets. There will also be times when we should champion someone who has enough grit and toughness to keep covering ten yards, even when they feel like they can’t go any further. Neil O’Brien is Founder of Time2Fly.

Jul 22, 2020
Careers

As offices begin to re-open, some professionals are looking for ways to retain an element of remote working. In this article, Teresa Stapleton shares her top tips to persuade your employer and make the most of your new arrangement. The COVID-19 lockdown has allowed many people to work remotely for the first time, and explore if they want to do this long-term. While remote working doesn’t suit every business or every role, the lockdown has forced many companies to radically change working practices, opening up the possibility of working remotely for more people in the future. Having worked from home part-time for many years and managed teams in different countries, my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. The time and money saved by not commuting and the flexibility to adjust working hours around other life commitments are significant benefits. Offering flexible working arrangements is also a great way to attract, retain and motivate employees. One of the fundamental principles of flexible working arrangements is that they will only be successful if it is mutually beneficial for the business and the employee. If you think remote working is the right solution for you, here are some tips to set you up for success. 1. Know the terms  Companies offering remote working should have a policy document outlining the terms and conditions to ensure consistency and avoid disputes. This typically describes the aims of the policy, eligibility criteria, the application process, how decisions are made, the appeals process, trial periods, and notice timelines for altering working arrangements to support changing business needs. Remote working applications typically involve the completion of a thorough risk assessment to review potential health and safety issues. The remote working policy should describe how the risk assessment will be completed, who is responsible for providing and maintaining furniture and equipment, and outline any other relevant factors (such as core working hours, insurance, expenses, confidentiality, security, and data privacy). 2. Structure your day It takes time to get used to working remotely and find ways to stay productive. It’s essential to have a schedule and to stick to it. Having a designated quiet space where you can concentrate is also critical, as is good online connectivity with high-speed broadband, video conferencing, and access to company apps and data. Anticipate technology issues and have a back-up plan. For example, have mobile numbers ready so you can stay connected and keep working while offline. Discuss your remote working plans with family or housemates to minimise disruption and get their buy-in. Avoid getting into the habit of constantly checking emails or taking calls outside designated working hours, so you don’t get sucked into long workdays with no time for family, friends or anything else. To avoid cabin fever, take breaks regularly and go outside for walks or exercise to clear your mind, relax and recharge. 3. Set boundaries Many people say they work harder and get more done when working at home. This is sometimes a result of extending the working day, by using the time saved not commuting to get more done. Some find it easier to concentrate at home, with fewer interruptions than the office. Others work through lunch and don’t take many breaks by choice to finish early and free-up time for childcare or other activities. It’s common for remote workers to say that they feel a need to work longer and respond immediately to calls and emails over extended hours to demonstrate their commitment to doing a good job. This ‘always on’ mentality can be draining and may lead to anxiety, stress and even burn-out in extreme cases. It’s a good idea to set boundaries in terms of your availability and share the details with colleagues to manage expectations around reasonable response times. 4. Demonstrate results  Managers will only support remote working if they believe employee performance will be as good, or better, than if the employee was office-based. Having clear objectives and targets is key to any performance management process, but it is even more important for people working remotely when their contribution is less visible. Agreeing up-front the results that are expected and understanding how performance will be assessed are essential for remote workers to ensure that they are fairly treated in performance appraisals and rewards decisions. The most common concerns raised by remote workers during coaching discussions are losing out when it comes to rewards and career progression. Office-based colleagues have a natural advantage as they can interact face-to-face with management, enabling them to build stronger working relationships and raise awareness of their impact, aspirations, and potential. To avoid being left behind, make your impact visible to your manager and others involved in assessing your performance. This typically involves more structured reporting, regular update calls with your direct manager, frequently connecting with stakeholders, and looking for other creative ways to raise your profile. 5. Encourage teamwork  The main concerns raised by managers of remote teams are that teamwork will decline and employee engagement will drop, ultimately reducing performance levels and business results. It takes sustained, conscious effort by everyone to prevent this from happening. Implementing a communications programme at the individual, team, and organisational level is essential to keep people connected, collaborating and engaged. There is, of course, a risk that some employees will become disengaged, and some may miss social interaction with colleagues. Companies new to remote working should raise awareness of the benefits and pitfalls of remote working and explore ideas to make it successful for all concerned. Teresa Stapleton is an Executive Coach at Stapleton Coaching.

Jul 22, 2020
Careers

Emma Noonan, Chair at CASSI, shares her time management tips and the key to her early career success. What do you love about your job? There are many aspects of my job that I enjoy, particularly the learning opportunities, challenges, and variety in the tasks I am assigned. However, what I truly love about my job, and what I really value is the people. This is the real differentiator between each firm, and I have been fortunate to work with strong and supportive teams during my time in KPMG. When you are faced with a problem at work, it’s great to be able to turn to a colleague and reach a solution together rather than struggle alone. The teams I have worked with have supported me, challenged me, and taught me everything I have learned so far in my career. So really, I have them to thank for the love I have for my job. What’s the best career decision you’ve ever made? Deciding to study with Chartered Accountants Ireland to become a qualified Chartered Accountant was the best career decision I have ever made. When I was in college, I was on the fence as to what I wanted to do and I found the idea of studying for another three and a half years very daunting. However, my decision was final when I did an internship with Risk Consulting at KPMG, where I saw the direct benefit becoming a Chartered Accountant had on working life in terms of both career development and career potential. I am now in the midst of my contract and I am delighted with the choice I made. How do you organise your time? That is a great question, and I welcome all suggestions! Scheduling everything I must do for the week ahead (both professionally and personally) in my diary works best for me. It has become a habit at this stage, and I always have my diary with me – it’s a great way to get an overview of my weekly plans at a glance. Every week, I write down what I need to achieve so that by 5.30pm on Friday, I will feel as though I have had a productive week. This is something I learned from Pat Divilly and it is a really useful exercise when I feel like I’m not getting enough done. Every day, I align my daily to-do list to my weekly objectives and prioritise each item. To achieve this, I write down realistic and specific to-dos. The more specific I am with my to-dos, the easier I find it to meet my weekly objectives and, as a result, feel more productive. For me, it’s essential to distinguish between my short-term and long-term goals. I can’t achieve everything I want in one day, so I try to bear this in mind as I set my daily tasks to meet my weekly objectives. What has been the key to your career success to date? I have had some small wins in my career so far including passing my CAP1 exams, being elected as CASSI Education Officer, and being elected as the Chair of CASSI this year. My goal at the moment is to build a varied skillset, which will benefit my career in the future. To me, this means taking every learning opportunity I can get my hands on and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. What is the best career advice you ever received? That’s a tough one! I’ve received advice from several mentors and my team in KPMG. However, the one that stands out is: seek to learn. Throughout my career, and with thanks to my firm, I have been exposed to a number of learning opportunities. These range from working with high-profile clients to learning key technical skills such as SQL, POWERBI and Excel. Educational opportunities are extremely important to me and in terms of my career, I endeavour to continuously upskill – sure, that’s exactly what the training contract is for! If you were to change one thing about your professional life, what would it be? Ironically, it would be to have more time. As I settle into my new role as CASSI Chair while working and studying full-time, I find myself struggling to have some downtime. This boils down to time management and what I am currently prioritising. So for now, I’d change how long it takes me to re-order my priorities! What lessons did you learn about yourself, and your work, during the pandemic? I have learned several lessons from both a personal and professional standpoint during COVID-19. However, my two key learning points are: communication and work-life balance. The fundamental role of face-to-face interaction in my daily job became very clear to me as we shifted to working from home, full-time. I learned the importance of open and continued communications, be it client-related or simply a discussion with a team member. In such uncertain times, an email or weekly catch-up really makes a difference when it comes to clarifying the company’s direction of travel for the months ahead. It was interesting to see how smoothly we shifted to online platforms and this has been key to increasing the frequency of communication in recent weeks. That said, I look forward to getting back to the office to see my colleagues, as it’s hard to beat a face-to-face interaction. But for the time being, the likes of Microsoft Teams is an excellent substitute. As a result of COVID-19, I also found myself out of the routine to which I was very much accustomed. It came as a bit of a shock when I realised that working from home wasn’t going to be a short-term thing and I struggled with the uncertainty I was facing. From this, I learned the importance of building and maintaining a work routine as well as factoring in down-time to catch-up virtually with friends and family. It took some time to get used to my kitchen/office hybrid, but I’ve settled in nicely to my new routine.

Jul 22, 2020
Career Guide

Bring your personal brand to life before, during and after an interview with these ten tips from Áine Killilea. 1. Be clear with your key messages  Your cover letter should state clearly the position you are applying for, and make a compelling case as to why you are the best candidate for the role. These are the most vital objectives of any cover letter and while they should take priority, you also want your potential employer to connect with you as a person. Refrain from using industry business jargon – you may end up diluting your value and confusing the reader, which would make any form of human connection virtually impossible. 2. Show up as your best, authentic self We always want to put our best foot forward at an interview. “Be yourself” might be a cliché, but it’s a cliché because it’s excellent advice. If you shine a spotlight on your best attributes in an interview, in the knowledge that every word you’re saying is valid, it makes it easier to get into a confident stride. If you’re trying to oversell yourself, there’s a high chance you’ll end up even more nervous and could contradict yourself during the interview. 3. Refine your elevator pitch Your elevator pitch is a quick snapshot of your background and experience. It should be 30 seconds in length and inform your prospective interviewer who you are, what you do, and what you want to do. Communicate your elevator pitch by giving it a story structure; this makes it more interesting, both to tell and to listen to. And when you have finalised your elevator pitch, refine it to reflect the requirements of the particular role for which you are applying. To update and create consistent content across all of your communications, adapt and use your elevator pitch as the introduction on your CV, your cover letter, and your LinkedIn ‘about’ section. And include keywords from your elevator pitch in your LinkedIn headline to help prospective recruiters and employers find you among the masses. If delivered compellingly, your elevator pitch will help you build business relationships throughout your career. It can also help you connect more meaningfully with colleagues on day one of your new role. 4. Align your values Research the values of the company you wish to join. Consider which of your own values truly align with the company’s values, and include them in your CV, cover letter, elevator pitch, and in how you answer interview questions. This will help your prospective employer more easily envision you slotting in with the company’s ethos and culture. 5. Communicate your core messages Identify the core messages of your professional personal brand and incorporate them in your communication with the interview panel. Doing so will reinforce critical messages and ensure that you won’t have that rueful “I never told them I could…” feeling after the interview. 6. Prepare stories Stories connect us to people. The job description highlights the characteristics of the role you’re applying for, so prepare a variety of stories which demonstrate each of these characteristics. Give each story a beginning, middle and end. And keep them brief – this will make the remembering and telling of each story much easier. 7. Listen! In the rush to communicate your suitability for the role, it can be easy to forget to listen or to mishear what is being asked of you. Listen to what is being said, and take a breath before answering the question. Doing so will reinforce your value as a measured and discerning candidate. 8. Dress as if you already belong there Leverage your personal style by indicating through the use of colour that you fit in with the company. If possible, incorporate a colour used in the organisation’s branding in your interview clothing (if the organisation’s branding features purple, for example, wear a purple tie or handbag). This gesture creates a visual cue that you already belong in the organisation. 9. Manage your online presence Social media is a fantastic way to showcase your skills, interests and network. A recent study by the Society For Human Resource Management found that 84% of employers recruit via social media, and 43% of employers screen job candidates through social networks and search engines. The same study found that 36% of companies have disqualified job candidates after doing an online search or viewing an applicant’s social media! With this in mind, Google yourself and ensure that prospective employers will find only favourable information when they do the same. Also, review your social media accounts – including those you don’t currently use, but have in the past – to ensure nothing could go against you in the eyes of a prospective employer. Use your elevator pitch as your starting point and when posting online, reflect your values and highlight clearly what you have to offer to the companies you wish to be employed by. 10. Reflect your personal brand in VIRTUAL interviews Online interviews can also present you with opportunities to highlight your personal brand to companies before you even speak. Pay attention to your clothing, background and lighting as this will emphasise your attention to detail, which is a skill consistently sought by employers.   Áine Killilea is Director of Áine Image & Communications and Founding Director  of Evolve PR.

Jul 22, 2020

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